Xanders father was a painter and his mother a school teacher who sewed, providing him with costumes (his preference over toys). School plays and Community Theater were next. An experimental theater troupe in the area (which was an offshoot from Joseph Chaikins Open Theater in New York) took Xander under their wing when he was 16. He credits this group for shaping him as both a person and an actor, committed to taking risks and remaining open to the unknown. Xander went to Hampshire College, the progressive brainchild of Smith, Mt. Holyoke, Amherst, and the University of Massachusetts. He would continue in the theater at Hampshire, studying and doing plays at each of the other schools, all of which were there in the area. A move to New York after college brought him access to private teachers from the Royal Academy of the Arts, the Moscow Arts Theater and HB Studios. Later in Los Angeles, Xander would spend time with Lee Strasberg at The Actors Studio during the last years of his life. Xander worked in Regional and Repertory Theaters in addition to off-Broadway while living in New York but, despite a classically trained theater background, he was increasingly drawn to the subtleties of film acting. A play, written by the great southern novelist Reynolds Price, called Early Dark had such a cinematic feel to it, that an agent saw the film acting potential in Xander and encouraged him to make the move out west. Soon Mommie Dearest (1981) provided Xander with his film debut in the role of Christopher Crawford, and simultaneously gave his career a slightly cultish twist.